FAQ > “why should we settle for less?”

Q: The Atlanta Beltline’s vision is so amazing. Why should we settle for less when we don’t have to?


(faq.) Related to my recent “Our Beltline” post, here’s a specific example. Below is my letter to the Inman Park Neighborhood Association Board regarding the redevelopment of 670-690 DeKalb Avenue and the future Atlanta Beltline tunnel.  >> Ryan Gravel

UPDATE > Thanks to an amazing collaboration between North American Properties and various community constituencies, this challenge appears to be solved for now. Here’s a good summary of what happened – “The Beltline Project at 670-690 DeKalb” by Neil Kinkopf of the Inman Park Neighborhood Association.


September 8, 2016

Dear IPNA Board,

I am unable to attend your next meeting and discussion regarding the 670-690 DeKalb Avenue project, so I was asked to send you my thoughts in writing.

I have had several discussions with staff at ABI and others regarding the future Atlanta Beltline tunnel at DeKalb Avenue and I’m convinced that solving the problem is technically possible. I feel a little better about that, and I appreciate the work ABI has done to demonstrate how both transit and trail can fit through a tightly constrained right-of-way. It is clear to me that there are a lot of good people trying to make this right, even while there are differences of opinion about how much more should be done and why.

However, the most recent plans and discussions only answer the question of how – how we might fit a new tunnel through a narrowly constrained alignment. They do not answer the question of why – why we would put ourselves in such a vulnerable position in the first place. By committing ourselves to the technically-possible tunnel’s narrow, curving alignment, we’re adding costs – potentially alignment-killing costs – to the implementation of the Atlanta Beltline. And by doing so, we risk not fulfilling our promise to the people of Atlanta.

There is no reason to do this to ourselves. ABI purchased this parcel of land, presumably for the very purpose of this alignment. So why can’t we be a little more generous with the width and design of our new tunnel? I know from the construction of the Eastside Trail that there are likely to be many unforeseen conditions and costs lurking below the surface of the site and street. And the current alignment assumes the unnecessary demolition of the ramp and stair at Edgewood Avenue. Beyond the cost of the tunnel itself, others have raised questions about what obligations we will have to rebuild the retail frontage of the new buildings when the time comes for the tunnel’s construction, which would easily last more than a year, and how these and other financial burdens might make the Atlanta Beltline less competitive for federal transit funding.

The implications of not building the tunnel would be devastating. Our already-crowded trail would be permanently stuck through the already-congested Krog Street tunnel and its obvious traffic safety and capacity problems. And a discontinuous transit loop or traffic-choked transit alternative would literally disenfranchise all of south Atlanta from the promise of the Atlanta Beltline and devalue the land along the way.

For these reasons, I’m standing by my earlier statements. While I’m confident we can engineer ourselves out of any problem, we have to ask ourselves at what cost? And why? We’ve always known that this particular parcel is a critical link in the Atlanta Beltline and our ability to deliver on its promise, so we need to be extremely careful. With our children and the world watching, we also need to be aspirational and maintain the highest expectations for the entire 22-mile loop. We have no reason to do otherwise.

I want to be clear that I’m not recommending we stop this development. There has been a lot of good work put into making it work for the community. I’m just asking that somehow we preserve a better, straighter alignment – something more than 100’ instead of 70’ – so that the Atlanta Beltline can fulfill its promise to everyone. There will be more questions as we continue with the implementation of our big vision, and we should feel free to ask them because the answers matter to both the project’s outcomes and intent. While the question of the tunnel at DeKalb Avenue may sound like a technical issue, it is also a philosophical one: Do we want the Atlanta Beltline we’ve been promised? Or are we willing to settle for less?

Ryan Gravel

Inman Park resident

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2 replies

  1. I don’t know where all of this is going to go. But I know that reading this makes me smile and gives me a warm feeling. Long-term projects are very difficult. Keeping them on track so that the final product even vaguely resembles the original vision is almost impossible. The fact that Mr. Gravel is staying involved and pushing back emphatically in a continuous attempt to nudge the real-world plans so that they shift closer to that original vision gives me a feeling of pride. Perhaps we can make the impossible possible by staying involved and being diligent.

  2. Thanks for the insight and opinion. It’s tough these days to keep up with all the different elements of what’s going on with the Beltline. But it’s good to ask the questions how and why and I hope everyone continues to do so.

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